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​Paragraphs 10.4, 11.3 and 12.2 of the Constitution and Procedure for the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority variously authorize the Code of Practice Appeal Board or the Board of Management of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry to require an audit of a company’s procedures in relation to the Code of Practice for the Pharmaceutical Industry to be carried out by the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority.

Set out below are guidelines on company procedures which are regarded as representing good practice in this regard. They are minimum requirements and will need to be adapted to fit in with the arrangements at any particular company.

The guidelines also point out the most significant changes which have been made to the Code in the 2012  and Second 2012 editions.

The guidelines do not cover all aspects of the Code and are thus no substitute for a detailed study of the Code as a whole, including all of the supplementary information.

1) Scope of the Code

It should be borne in mind that the Code covers some matters that are not necessarily related to promotion. Companies should familiarise themselves with the detail of what is covered and ensure that their procedures are such as to ensure compliance at all times. The supplementary information to Clause 1.1 gives guidance in this regard as does Clause 14.3 which details materials to be certified even if they are non-promotional in nature.

Other material issued by companies which relates to medicines but which is not intended as promotion for those medicines, such as corporate advertising, press releases, market research material, financial information for shareholders and the Stock Exchange and responses to unsolicited enquiries from the public etc, should be examined to ensure that it does not contravene the Code or relevant statutory requirements.

Account should be taken of the fact that non-promotional material could be used or made available in such a way that it would be considered promotion and thereby come within the scope of the Code.

2) Co-Promotion

Adequate provision should be made in co-promotion agreements and the like to ensure compliance with the Code. Where companies jointly promote the same product and the promotional material bears both company names, each company must certify the promotional material involved as the companies concerned will be held jointly responsible for it under the Code (supplementary information to Clause 14.1).

3) Breaches of the Code

In the event of a company being found in breach of the Code, procedures should provide that adequate steps are taken to ensure that relevant information about the matter is communicated internally to appropriate members of staff.

Procedures must be in place to ensure that promotional material found to be in breach of the Code, and any similar material in any format, is quickly and entirely withdrawn from use, not forgetting material stored electronically and/or in the hands of others, such as printers and agencies. It is important for the reputation of the industry that companies comply with undertakings. Inadequate action leading to a breach of undertaking is likely to be in breach of Clause 2.

Companies are advised to keep written records of the action taken to withdraw material.

4) Compliance

Companies should bear in mind that promotional material must be up-to-date at the time that it is sent or used or, in the case of a journal advertisement, at the publication date of the journal.

Each company must have a senior employee who is responsible for ensuring that it meets the requirements of the Code (Clause 1.9).

Unless other formal arrangements have been made by a company, it will be assumed that the responsible person is the managing director or chief executive or equivalent.

To assist with compliance, companies should have a comprehensive set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) covering all aspects of the Code. SOPs should set out high standards and relevant staff should be trained and validated on their content.

5) Price Lists for Unlicensed Medicines

The Second 2012 Code allows the use of price lists relating to unlicensed medicines provided that they include no product claims and make clear that the products are unlicensed (Clause 1.2 and its supplementary information).  Such price lists can be sent to health professionals and appropriate administrative staff at reasonable intervals or in response to enquiries.  They must not be used proactively in a manner which could be seen to be promoting unlicensed medicines, such as by displaying them on exhibition stands.


6) Abbreviated Advertisements 

The Second 2012 Code makes significant changes in relation to abbreviated advertisements (Clause 5).  Such advertisements must now refer to a website where further information about the product can be found.  This further information can consist of the prescribing information, as set out in Clauses 4.2 and 4.3, or the summary of product characteristics.  Companies should ensure that abbreviated advertisements published after 31 October 2012 comply with the new requirements in Clause 5.4.

 7) Non-Interventional Studies of Marketed Medicines

A non-interventional study of a marketed medicine is a study where the medicine is prescribed in the usual manner in accordance with the terms of its marketing authorization (Clause 13). The assignment of the patient to a particular therapeutic strategy is not decided by a study protocol but falls within current practice and the prescription of the medicine is clearly separated from the decision to include the patient in the study. No additional diagnostic or monitoring procedures are applied to the patients and epidemiological methods are used for the analysis of collected data.

A company involved in non-interventional studies must have a scientific service to deal with their approval and supervision as required by Clause 21.2.

An important change was introduced in the 2011 Code. Companies must publish the summary details and results of non-interventional studies of marketed medicines completed on or after 1 May 2011 (Clause 13.2). This applies to studies with which a UK company has had any involvement. The 2008 Code encouraged companies to publish this information and this still applies to studies completed prior to 1 May 2011.

Clause 13.3, which sets out the criteria with which non-interventional studies must comply, applies to studies completed on or after 1 July 2008, though companies are encouraged to comply in relation to studies completed prior to that date.

8) Certification of Promotional Material

Procedures must ensure that:

  • promotional material is not issued until its final form has been certified in accordance with Clause 14
  • the names of signatories are notified in advance to the Advertising Standards Unit, Vigilance and Risk Management of Medicines of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and to the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (Clause 14.4)
  • the form of certificate encompasses at least the requirements of Clause 14.5
  • material still in use is recertified at intervals of no more than two years (Clause 14.5); much more frequent recertification may be needed for some products and companies should ensure that the status of material continuing in use is kept under review
  • paper or electronic copies of the certificates, together with the material in the form certified and information as to whom it was addressed, the method of dissemination and the date of first dissemination are preserved for at least three years after final use (Clause 14.6).

Each certificate should bear a reference number with the same reference number appearing on the promotional material in question so that there can be no doubt as to what has been certified. A particular reference number should relate to only one item of promotional material.

Different sizes and different layouts of a piece of promotional material should be separately certified and each should have its own unique reference number.

A change in the certification requirements made in the 2011 Code allows UK registered pharmacists to certify promotional material in lieu of a medical practitioner (Clause 14.1). Previously they could certify in this regard only to a limited extent and then only under the direction of a medical practitioner.

9) Certification of Representatives’ Briefing and Training Materials

The certification requirements of Clause 14 apply also to briefing material prepared for representatives in accordance with Clause 15.9. Briefing material includes the training material used to instruct medical representatives about a medicine and the instructions given to them as to how the product should be promoted. Procedures must ensure that no such material is used or issued prior to certification.

10) Certification of Items to be Passed on to Patients

The 2011 Code introduced the certification of items which are provided to health professionals for them to pass on to patients (Clauses 14.3 and 18.2). Such items must be part of a formal patient support programme, the details of which must be appropriately documented and certified in advance.

11) Certification of Other Material

Clause 14.3 lists other material which needs to be certified and companies should familiarise themselves with what is covered. Additionally, Clause 14.2 requires the certification of all meetings which involve travel outside the UK. The Code now allows only very limited provision to health professionals of promotional aids for them to keep and these must be certified (supplementary information to Clause 14.1 and Clause 18.3).

12) Representatives’ Expenses

There should be a clearly laid down procedure for approval and payment of representatives’ expenses and expenditure on meetings and hospitality and the like. A system should be in place for an audit on a systematic or random basis which will check the nature of the expenditure which has been incurred and assess whether that expenditure was in accordance with the requirements of the Code.

13) Representatives’ Training

Procedures must ensure that:

  • representatives are aware that they must maintain a high standard of ethical conduct and comply with all relevant requirements of the Code (Clause 15.2)
  • representatives (including contract representatives) are adequately trained in relation to every product which they are to promote (Clause 15.1)
  • representatives are not employed as medical representatives or generic sales representatives unless they have passed the relevant examination as provided for in Clauses 16.3 and 16.4, or have been in such employment for less than two years (whether continuous or otherwise and irrespective of whether with one company or with more than one company)
  • contract representatives are only employed or used if they comply with the requirements of Clauses 16.3 and 16.4 as regards examination status.

Representatives should be provided with written instructions on the application of the Code to their work even if they are also provided with an actual copy of it. It is recommended that each representative is given their own copy of the Code. Their instructions should cover such matters as the company’s policies on meetings and hospitality, and the associated allowable expenditure, and the specific requirements for representatives in Clause 15. It should be made clear how reporting to the ‘scientific service’ of the company is to be carried out in relation to information about the medicines which they promote which comes to their notice, particularly reports of side-effects (Clause 15.6).

It should be made clear to representatives as to whether, and in what circumstances, they can themselves write letters (or prepare other written materials) which mention particular medicines and are thus almost certain to be considered promotional material.

Such items must be certified, either in advance by way of proforma letters or by certifying each individual letter or other item, and must bear prescribing information in accordance with Clause 4.1.

14) Training

It should be ensured that all relevant personnel, including representatives and members of staff (including persons retained by way of contract with third parties) concerned in any way with the preparation or approval of promotional material or of information to be provided to members of the UK health professions or to appropriate administrative staff or of information to be provided to the public and recognised patient organisations, are fully conversant with the requirements of the Code and relevant legal requirements (Clause 16.1).

Appropriate arrangements should be in place for training on the requirements of the Code. These may be internal arrangements for appropriate staff members but it is recommended that key personnel attend one of the seminars organised by the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority.

It should also be ensured that all personnel (including persons retained by way of contract with third parties) are fully conversant with pharmacovigilance requirements relevant to their work and that this is fully documented (Clause 16.2).

Adequate arrangements should be in place to ensure that any information as to changes to the Code etc, including reports of decided cases, are circulated to relevant personnel.

Companies should consider making knowledge of, and compliance with, their obligations in relation to both the Code and pharmacovigilance requirements part of the annual appraisal process for relevant employees.

Clauses 16.3 to 16.5 set out the requirements relating to the need for representatives to pass the relevant ABPI examination. Examination status is enquired into when a complaint is received about a representative. Companies should have appropriate procedures in place to ensure that representatives enter for the relevant examination on the earliest practicable date.

Representatives must take the examination in their first year of such employment and must pass it within two years of starting such employment.

15) Provision of Medicines and Samples

Companies should ensure that their procedures are such as to ensure compliance with Clause 17. They should be clear as to the distinctions between samples, identification samples, titration packs and free goods etc. which are described in the supplementary information to Clause 17.

Significant changes to the requirements relating to samples were made in the 2012 Code.

Not more than four samples of a particular new medicine may now be provided to an individual health professional during the course of a year and then for no longer than two years after that health professional first requests samples of it (Clause 17.2). A definition of a ‘new medicine’ is given in the supplementary information to Clause 17.2.

The above applies to new medicines launched in the UK market on or after 1 January 2012. In relation to medicines launched in the UK prior to that date, samples may be given in accordance with Clause 17.2 of the 2011 Code until 31 December 2013.

Clause 17.9 requires companies to have adequate systems of control and accountability for samples and for all medicines handled by representatives. Similarly, there should be an adequate system to control the number of samples of a particular product given to a particular health professional (Clause 17.2).

The 2012 Code stated that samples must not be given for the sole purpose of treating patients (Clause 17.12).

The Second 2012 Code states that starter packs are not permitted (supplementary information to Clause 17). Starter packs are small packs designed to provide sufficient medicine for a primary care prescriber to initiate treatment in such circumstances as a call out in the night.  Companies must ensure that no starter packs are provided to prescribers after 31 October 2012.

16) Items for Patients and Promotional Aids

The 2011 Code introduced considerable changes in this area.

The traditional forms of promotional aid, such as coffee mugs, stationery and calendars, can no longer be given to health professionals and nor can items for use in a clinic or treatment room, such as surgical gloves, tongue depressors and tissues and the like (supplementary information to Clause 18.1). Toys and puzzles for children to play with can no longer be provided either.

Items intended to be passed on to patients can be provided to health professionals if these are part of a patient support programme, the details of which have been appropriately documented and certified in advance (Clause 18.2). They must cost no more than £6, excluding VAT, and the perceived value to the health professional and the patient must be similar. They must directly benefit patient care. Such items can be provided to health professionals by representatives during the course of a promotional call but they must not be given out from exhibition stands.

In limited circumstances, patient support items can be provided to health professionals when they are not to be passed to patients for them to keep (supplementary information to Clause 18.2). This is where their purpose is to allow patients to gain experience in using their medicines whilst under the supervision of a health professional. Examples are inhalation devices devoid of active ingredients and devices to assist patients to learn how to self-inject.

The only items that can be provided to health professionals for them to keep are notebooks, pens and pencils for use at bona fide meetings and conferences etc. The total cost of such items provided to an individual must not exceed £6, excluding VAT, and the perceived value to the recipient must be similar. They may not bear the name of a medicine or any information about medicines (Clause 18.3). They must not be provided by representatives when calling upon health professionals.

There is much detail in the supplementary information to Clauses 18.1, 18.2 and 18.3 and it is essential that companies familiarise themselves with it.

17) Medical and Educational Goods and Services

The provision of medical and education goods and services must be carried out in compliance with Clause 18.4 and must be certified in accordance with Clause 14.3.

18) Agreements to Benefit Patients such as Joint Working, Outcome Agreements and Patient Access Schemes

Joint working between the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry is now dealt with in the Code in some detail (Clause 18.5 and its supplementary information). An executive summary of a joint working agreement must be made public in relation to joint working projects starting on or after 1 May 2011 or on-going on that date. Material relating to joint working must be certified (Clause 14.3)

The supplementary information to Clause 18.1 deals with outcome or risk sharing agreements, patient access schemes and package deals.

19) Donations and Grants to Institutions, Organisations and Associations

The 2011 Code required pharmaceutical companies to make publicly available details of grants and donations made to institutions, organisations and associations in accordance with Clause 18.6. This applies to donations and grants made in 2012 and each calendar year thereafter.

Companies should take steps to ensure that they are able to readily source the information to be published.

Contracts relating to services provided by such institutions must comply with Clause 18.7.

20) Meetings and Hospitality

A company must have a written document that sets out its policies on meetings and hospitality and the associated allowable expenditure and must ensure that all meetings that it plans are checked to see that they comply with Clause 19.

Meetings held outside the UK are not necessarily unacceptable but there have to be valid and cogent reasons for the use of a venue outside the UK(supplementary information to Clause 19.1).

Meetings which involve travel outside the UK must be formally certified as set out in Clause 14.2.

A company’s procedures should cover its own meetings, those which it sponsors and the sponsorship of attendance at meetings.

Companies should remind their affiliates outside the UK that the ABPI Code of Practice must be complied with if UK health professionals attend meetings which they organise regardless of whether such meetings occur in the UK or abroad.

21) Sponsorship to Attend Meetings

An important change made in the 2011 Code was that financial details of sponsorship of UK health professionals and appropriate administrative staff to attend meetings organised by third parties must be made publicly available (Clause 19.4 and its supplementary information).

The information has to be made publicly available in respect of sponsorship to attend meetings in 2012 and each calendar year thereafter.

Companies should take steps to ensure that they are able to readily source the information to be published.

22) The Use of Consultants

Health professionals and appropriate administrative staff may be used as consultants and advisors for services such as speaking at and chairing meetings, involvement in medical/scientific studies, clinical trials or training services, participation at advisory board meetings, and participation in market research where such participation involves remuneration and/or travel. The arrangements which cover these genuine consultancy or other services must, to the extent relevant to the particular arrangement, fulfil the criteria set out in Clause 20 and procedures should ensure that the requirements of that clause are complied with.

Significant changes were made in relation to the use of consultants in the 2010 code. In particular, public disclosure of fees paid to consultants in the UK for certain services will be required for payments made in 2012 and each calendar year thereafter (Clause 20.2). No disclosure is required in relation to payments for research and development work, including the conduct of clinical trials. Additional information will have to be disclosed in relation to certain payments made in 2013 and each calendar year thereafter (Clause 20.3).

Companies should take steps to ensure that are able to readily source the information to be published.

Contracts or agreements with consultants entered into or renewed on and after 1 May 2011 must include provisions regarding their obligation to declare the arrangement whenever they write or speak in public about the subject of the agreement or any issue relating to the company (Clause 20.1). The 2008 Code encouraged such provisions but they are now obligatory. Companies are encouraged to renegotiate existing contracts to include such provisions at their earliest convenience.

23) Scientific Services

Companies must ensure that they have an identifiable scientific service to compile and collate all information, from medical representatives or any other source, about the medicines which they market (Clause 21.1). Where relevant, they must also have a scientific service to deal with the approval and supervision of non-interventional studies (Clause 21.2). There can be one scientific service in charge of both responsibilities or separate services with clearly delineated duties.

Companies must disclose details of clinical trials (Clause 21.3).  The Second 2012 Code details how this is to be done.

24) Relations with the Public and the Media

Prescription only medicines must not be advertised to the public but information about them can be provided either directly or indirectly. The provision of information to the public about prescription only medicines must be in accordance with Clause 22.

25) Relationships with Patient Organisations

Pharmaceutical companies can interact with patient organisations or any user organisation such as disability organisations, carer or relative organisations and consumer organisations to support their work, including assistance in the provision of appropriate information to the public, patients and carers.

When working with patient organisations, companies must ensure that all of the arrangements comply with the Code. This includes the prohibition on advertising prescription only medicines to the public (Clause 22.1). The requirements of Clause 19, which covers meetings for health professionals and appropriate administrative staff, also apply to pharmaceutical companies supporting patient organisation meetings.

Companies must ensure that the requirements of Clause 23 are complied with when working with patient organisations. In particular written agreements must be in place in respect of every significant activity or ongoing relationship (Clause 23.3) and there has to be public disclosure of financial support or indirect/non financial support.

The 2011 Code required the disclosure of the monetary value of support with a value to the organisation of £250 per project or more (excluding VAT) in relation to activities commenced on or after 1 May 2011 or ongoing on that date.

The 2012 Code changed this and required the published information to include the monetary value of financial support and of invoiced costs (Clause 23.7). The £250 minimum in the 2011 Code no longer applies. For significant non-financial support that cannot be assigned a meaningful monetary value, the published information must describe clearly the non-monetary value that the organisation receives.

A list of patient organisations including the monetary value of support regardless of its level must be made publicly available by the end of the first quarter of 2013 and cover activities commenced on or after 1 January 2012 or ongoing on that date. Until that information is made publicly available, the requirements for disclosure set out in Clause 23.7 of the 2011 Code and its supplementary information remain applicable. Companies should take steps to ensure that they are able to readily source the information to be published.

Companies must ensure that their support is clearly acknowledged from the outset. The wording of a declaration of sponsorship must accurately reflect the nature of a company’s involvement.

A completely new requirement in the 2012 Code related to contracts under which patient organisations provide consultancy or other services to companies. Clause 23.8 specifies the criteria which contracts for such services must meet, to the extent relevant to the particular arrangement. A list of patient organisations that have been engaged to provide significant contracted services must be published for the first time by the end of the first quarter of 2013 and cover activities commenced on or after 1 January 2012 or ongoing on that date.

Companies should ensure that such contracts comply with the criteria in Clause 23.8 and take steps to ensure that they are able to readily source the information to be published.

Under the 2012 Code hospitality can be provided in certain circumstances to patient carers (supplementary information to Clause 23.2).

26) The Internet

Companies should ensure that all relevant requirements of the Code, including Clause 24, are complied with in relation to promotional material for prescription only medicines which is provided on the Internet and directed to a UK audience.

If access to such material is not limited to health professionals and appropriate administrative staff, a pharmaceutical company website or a company sponsored website must provide information for the public as well as promotion to health professionals with the sections clearly separated and the intended audiences identified.

Material intended for the public which is provided on the Internet must  comply with Clause 22.2.